Outdoor cat to indoor
February 1, 2016 12:36 PM   Subscribe

I have a cat who loves the outdoors, but I am moving soon and she will have no option but to be indoors. I would like advice on how to handle this please, thank you.

Right now I live on the ground floor, in a quiet neighbourhood. My cat loves roaming around outside and spends hours exploring. She is half bengal, half stray and i know bengal cats are quite wild which is what she is. She is quite tame when indoors and doesn't scratch or ruin things, although I don't know how keeping her indoors will change things. She has been neutered which has calmed her down.

She is also tame and is very attached to me, more than she is to any other human being, which is why I don't want to give her away to anybody.
I am moving to a very touristic and busy neighbourhood with a large market one block away. My street will have more cars and people, and no nearby parks except for a little one outside my new apartment that is intended for children to play basketball in. The apartment is on the first floor with a balcony where she could sit and watch. I considered getting a ladder or something so that she could climb down it, but it is probably a bad idea because then I would have to keep the window open at all times and could be dangerous for her as well in the busy neighbourhood. I haven't seen any outdoor cats in that area, whereas my current apartment block has several outdoor cats.

I do feel terrible about this.
The new flat is very interesting with lots of hiding spaces, and I have bought a large cat tree house with scratching poles. I will also buy the Feliway spray that can calm her down. I wouldn't consider taking her out on a leash unless you think it is a good idea.
Will it be easier than I think it is, or is it a very cruel act? I also considered only letting her outside when it is raining, or under my supervision (as recommended on a previous ask metafilter question). Another idea I had was to buy a kitten so that they have each other. Are any of these good ideas? How else could I make her feel more settled at being an indoor cat?
Thank you in advance.
posted by akita to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If your kitty likes walking outdoors on a leash I'm all for it. Another option is a Pet Stroller. I don't see how these things can be cruel

I suggest just not letting her out. Eventually, she'll get used to it. Our two have been indoor kitties since birth, so they're pretty chill with it. They have lots of windows to look out of and I let them smell the air from a screened window every so often.

If you have money and space, an exercise wheel could be fun.

Lots of enriching toys, feeders and fountains are good. You can try to see if a kitten is the right answer, maybe yes, maybe no. Can you take her to the SPCA to interact with other cats? Or perhaps foster one?

I know this is cultural, but letting cats out is bad for critters, they are murderers. I've also seen a lot of cats get hurt on the roadways, wet or dry.

This really is better for her.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I grew up in a suburban area, with two indoor/outdoor cats. After one cat had two life-threatening accidents, we started keeping both cats indoors. One (the non-accident-prone one) was pretty much pissed about it the rest of her life but, you know, it was fine. She still managed to get up to plenty of mischief inside. I do think it helped to have another cat to chase around the house, so definitely consider that if it's an option.
posted by lunasol at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2016

She will be fine. If you have space and time enough for another cat, I think that's an excellent idea. Please read several web resources on the best way to introduce a new cat to an existing cat.

The cat tree will be great!

If you think she will be bored -- it sounds like she's very intelligent -- you might enjoy clicker training her.
posted by amtho at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have cats who were outdoors and are now indoors. They sort of take up eating instead of going outside, so it hasn't been a problem, and they go out on the balcony in the summer. Cat toys and trees help a lot. Taking her out with a lead would be a good compromise as well. Can you take her with you when you go to visit friends and family?
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2016

We did this with my mom's remarkably stupid cat. Just don't let her out. She will adjust and it will certainly help keep alive the songbirds and other wildlife in your new neighborhood.
posted by bearwife at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think a move is a good time to make the transition. I would not get a kitten at this time. There is a lot of trauma for cat that moves and no longer has the run of outdoors. Kitten makes the situation more complicated.
posted by AugustWest at 12:57 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I got my cat after he was allowed outdoors for the first year of his life. My now-ex-girlfriend and I continued to let him outside for another year, because like you, we thought he'd go crazy being inside and we had a dog door that made it easy for him to come and go. He's a very bold cat! But one day he went missing. I had given up on him ever coming home and thankfully he showed up about two weeks later, covered in some sticky substance and smelling awful—we think he got stuck in a dumpster or something! So now he's an indoor-only cat, 4 years and counting. He still wants to go outside and has made many mad dashes out the door. Sometimes he wails to be let out. It's sad but it was the right decision, not only for his safety but because he was killing a lot of birds (and bringing them home!)

So here's my advice: make sure you're stimulating him in other ways every single day, especially at first. I rotate toys to keep him interested but he never gets sick of the Cat Dancer brand toys, especially the "charmer". He also likes "Da Bird" toy (all of these are on Amazon or usually available in pet stores for around $5.) Some cats love chasing laser pointers. You can play with your cat until she is panting and then the key (according to my cat obsessed friend who has read a lot of 'understand your cat' type books) is to reward her with treats so that she's not frustrated that all that play resulting in no accomplishment.

You may also have to be more vigilant with your litter box maintenance because she may have been eliminating outside. I think that's the part that makes my cat the most upset and he will yell to get outside if his box isn't meticulously cleaned.

This is not going to be a popular opinion here, but I talked about why I use a (MILD) electronic collar on my cat to prevent him from rushing outside here. I tried everything from scary noises to spraying him in the face with a water bottle whenever I opened the door to blocking the door with my shoe rack to prevent him from getting out and opening it only half an inch before I come in, but he still tried to escape constantly. You may not need this option but it really saved my sanity after I moved to a new apartment in a really traffic heavy area (full of posters about missing cats or cats mauled by coyotes, ugh) and thought I was going to go crazy from worrying about him escaping. He barely had to wear it, but it really cut down on his escape attempts because he learned immediately that the beeping on the collar is warning him not to go near the door.

Despite that last paragraph, I will say that the transition from outdoor/indoor to strictly indoor isn't that big of a deal. I worry about him getting out but I'm really used to it and he's easy to catch once he does escape because he freezes.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:58 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

All of mine have been outdoor-living rescues brought to live full-time indoors, and they have all been FINE. One spent years determined to escape whenever the door opened (then crouched in panic whenever he achieved it because NOW WHAT); another two promptly went, "INDOOR LIVING WITH REGULAR MEALS? HELL YES." and avoid the door like the plague because the door goes to the horrible outside place with no heating vents and irregular food and rain. But they have all adjusted fine to being happy and healthy indoor cats. You do have to keep more of an eye on their diet because it's much easier for them to get fat, but that's not really such a hassle and they make food formulas for indoor cats.

We love putting out birdfeeders near our cats' favorite windows, which keeps them highly entertained and engaged.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:21 PM on February 1, 2016

Everyone is missing that your cat is a Bengal.

I think at all sounds great thus far, but no, you cat will not be satisfied inside, on a leash, or in a stroller. I'm hoping the Feliway helps. I fear your cat will attempt to become an escape artist, because bengals are really really really good at that.

I would not get another cat. I would get more mechanical toys, puzzle toys, water fountain for fresh running water, and maybe shelving or similar along upper walls dedicated to cat climbing and napping and exploration.

Also, are there kitty daycare places near you? Sometimes those places have large caged in outdoor space. I would do that over another cat.

Double check every screen in every window. You don't want any accidents. While I'm not trying to panic you, this is something you will need to be incredibly vigilant and proactive about.

I'm sure there are Bengal message boards and forums on the Internet. Ask there.
posted by jbenben at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Put the cat tree in front of a window. Get some bird feeders for your window / balcony. You can put wire fencing up to enclose your balcony and keep the cat in if you want to be able to let it out there. My sister has indoor cats and she puts them outside with harnesses on and their leashes tethered so they can't go anywhere.
posted by lizbunny at 2:01 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

My kitties were indoor/outdoor kitties who became solely indoor kitties when moving in with me. They were pretty pissed at first (especially if I went outside to hang washing but wouldn't let them out too; lots of glares and meowing) but they love their cat tree and love playing chasies (with each other or me and a ribbon) and now they are fine.

Your cat will have times when they tell you that you are the meanest, cruelest human to ever walk the earth but remember they also say that when you didn't read their mind and had the temerity to serve their absolute favourite cat food on the day they decided that they now hate it. Don't take it personally.
posted by kitten magic at 3:13 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know someone who has a ladder like you mentioned for their cat, but as an alternative, you could also let her in/out with a cat elevator. Not saying you should if it's not safe, obviously, but it could be another option.
posted by three_red_balloons at 3:16 PM on February 1, 2016

I have the opposite story than most here have.
We took in my sister's 2-year old Siamese. Mr. Personality. He had previously been an indoor cat and my sister had to give him up because she couldn't handle him and a new baby both. He was beautiful (gorgeous!) and playful and affectionate but he was also completely miserable and yowled for hours on end. He made our lives hell for about two months, until I finally let him out one day. Then he calmed down, came home to eat, and sleep, and lap-sit, and became a part of the family. So there's that.

On the down side, he also became territorial and a sprayer, although he was neutered and did not spray when he first came to us. He would also disappear for days at a time (a few times over the years) and would come home with injuries, limps, and dead birds. Not good, and worried us to distraction thinking he was lying dead in a gutter somewhere.

So, it could be that yours will have trouble adjusting, but the other commenters have had much better outcomes than I did. We didn't have Feliway then. Perhaps it would have helped.

Also, our other two cats were regular homebodies and more than happy to be kept indoors.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:11 PM on February 1, 2016

I wouldn't consider taking her out on a leash unless you think it is a good idea.

In pretty much every episode of My Cat From Hell with a problem bengal, they recommend walks and lots of play exercise, so, you probably are going to want to give it a try.
posted by oh yeah! at 4:37 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Can you hang bird/squirrel feeders outside the windows for her to watch from inside?
posted by Jacqueline at 9:02 PM on February 1, 2016

W used to put our cat in the yard on a long leash (away from anything she might become entangled in) with a brick on the end to anchor her. Also a bell collar to warn the birds she was there.
She could enjoy the fresh air, walk around, get some sunshine but not get into mischief.
Just for an hour or two each day
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 10:04 AM on February 2, 2016

When previous posters discuss playing with your cat, they're legitimate suggestions. Just like a dog needs exercise, so does a cat, especially an indoor one. You've got to set aside 20 minutes/day for her maintenance. You're maintaining your companion by actively interacting with it through playing with her. The 20 minutes/day doesn't have to be a single stretch, it could be 10 minutes in the morning and then a second 10 minutes after work. Kitty playing by herself for 20 minutes doesn't help much. You might have to buy $100 of toys before you find ones that appeal to her. Make the toy act like prey: move a little, pause, move a little, pause, move a little and then let kitty catch it. Constant motion might not appeal to her. Rotate your cat's toy availability so that all toys aren't out all the time. Taking away toys for a couple weeks refreshes their appeal.

Your cat could get used to walking on a leash; you've got to be patient (especially more patient than kitty) and work on it a little bit every day. Leash walking isn't going to be like a walking a dog in that kitty won't take to it immediately. There's plenty of websites and videos providing instructions on leash walking a cat. Giving a reward help encourage kitty's acceptance of the leash.

Got to have a scratching post or pad inside. Some cats like them on the floor and some like them mounted vertically to accommodate stretching and scratching.
posted by dlwr300 at 1:31 PM on February 2, 2016

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